Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Remixing ‘Deep Remixability’: trying to get it right


I was pretty much amused by the political aspect of the essay ‘Deep Remixability’, if we fail to perceive it this way then we might face a problem understanding the social aspect of media today.

After having mentioned DJ Spooky’s vision of sampling and its importance as an art practice in one of the chat sessions, Andy pointed out that I should be looking at the concept of ‘deep remixability’ by Lev Manovich as the next development on the form of sampling.

Having read the essay, I decided that it would require another reading to really grasp the essence, so the next time I read the article, I decided to take notes for myself in order to follow the thread of the author’s thoughts.

‘Deep remixability’, the essay, mainly discusses the new hybrid language of moving image that emerged during the period of 1993-1998. 1993 is the year Adobe launched their software After Effects, the application that enabled people (from all levels) working in media to produce commercials, music videos, motion graphics, TV graphics and other types of short non-narrative films and moving image sequences in a hybrid form.

Hybrid has become the norm, Manovich argues since with After Effects one can do a lot of things: editing, designing, compositing, creating special effects, animating… all on a desktop computer or a laptop.


Manovich refers to the ‘Velvet Revolution’ that happened when Central and Eastern Europe peacefully liberated themselves from the Soviet Union. ‘Velvet Revolution’ the term came to express the smoothness of the transformation, that of the velvet smoothness.

He uses this metaphor to explain the aesthetics resulting from the transformation in moving image.


Different media met within the same digital environment, they interacted in a new way that did not exist before and that could not be imagined or predicted ahead before the invention of the algorithmic language. Now with algorithms, all the data became digital, so the different file formats became compatible with every other software, and this is where the new language of the hybrid emerged based on the logic of remixability.

Having set that the logic of the new hybrid language is that of ‘remixability’, not only of the content of different media or simply their aesthetics, but their fundamental techniques, working methods, languages, and assumptions. All the moving image categories, when united under the common software environment, they create a new metamedium.

The work produced in this new metamedium cannot be referred to as ‘remediation’, since what the computer does is simulate all media, not only its surface appearance, but also the techniques used for their production and the methods of viewing and interacting with the work in these media.

The author argues that After Effects constituted a new stage in the history of media, with new aesthetics and the production of new media species, based on the interaction of the different media in the same software environment (typography with 2D animation and cinematography for instance in the same melting pot being After Effects). The end result is ‘new cultural species’ in Manovich’s words.


Digital compositing was essential in enabling the development of the new hybrid visual language of moving images. Its original mission was to support the aesthetics of cinematic realism; instead it liberated the many media from the fake (or fluent) flow and enhanced the visibility of the mixes. This is how it enabled media ‘remixability’ and soon became a ‘universal media integrator’.

Its importance lies in the fact that it transformed the basic unit from ‘frame’ to ‘visual elements’. Manovich uses the After Effects’ interface again to argument the shift from ‘time-based’ to ‘composition-based’. In this software, visual elements are placed in the composition windows, these elements can be manipulated and conceptualized as independents objects that could be accessed, revisited and edited back endlessly. Therefore, the main issue that this software is suggesting is space as opposed to time, in the author’s words.

He also refers to cinema in the modern times, how it was perceived as a series of photos placed in a sequence, when projected create the effect of motion. This is where the term ‘moving pictures’ or ‘moving image’ come from. Since today all media are conceived differently (being created in either a 2D or 3D worlds), contemporary terminology that defines moving image would become: ‘modular media composition’.

To recap, hybridization is not:

- A simple mechanical sum of the previously existing parts, it is new species being generated

- Simply adding the content of different media or adding together their techniques and languages

- A simple remix as it is commonly understood in contemporary culture

This is where the term ‘deep remixability’ emerges.

Effect is simulated and removed from its original physical media (that of fluent realistic effect in cinema realism) >> manipulation could be happening in many ways (since it’s now based on visual elements instead of a frame) >> parameters are independently animated (one could change an animation for instance over time) >> numbers are controlling the algorithm >> simulated depth of field maintain the memory of the particular physical media which it came from >> it becomes a new technique which functions as a character in its own right >> it has fluidity and versatility that did not exist previously >> ambiguous relation to the physical world.


The author names the following factors:

- The rise of branding

- The experience of economy

- Youth markets

- Web as a global communication platform

These factors are not enough to lead to the new aesthetics, instead he would mention a fact being ‘softwares used in production environments are not set out to create a revolution; they are created to fit in already existing procedures, job roles and familiar tasks.’ This is were the result to ‘deep remixability’ shapes:

‘Software are like species within the common ecology, once released, the start interacting, mutating, and making hybrids.’


The essay is beautifully ended by the conclusion below:

‘Following the Velvet Revolution, the aesthetic charge of many media designs is often derived from more ‘simple’ remix operations - juxtaposing different media in what can be called ‘media montage.’ However, for me the essence of this Revolution is the more fundamental ‘deep remixability’ (...). Computerization virtualized practically all media creation and modification techniques, ‘extracting’ them from their particular physical media and turning them into algorithms. This means that in most cases, we will no longer find any of these techniques in their pure original state.’

The article could be found on the following link:

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